Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Grothe tale

There may be a book in this for somebody. This story is about Randy Grothe, from David Hanners who, a lifetime or so ago, was part of a team that won a Pulitzer for the DMN for an amazing special section on how to investigate a plane crash. I can still remember the clue that the filaments of the light bulbs offered. Do they still use light bulbs? Anyway:

Jeezamae. What a sad tale. I remember when we called the DMN “The Voice of Texas.” Now it seems more like “The Hoarse Whisper of Dallas.” You could run a damn-fine newsroom with the people who have left that place. Not that anybody's in the mood to run a damn-fine newsroom these days, though.

I remember traveling with Randy up to the Middle of Nowhere, Okla., to do a story on a guy who ran a company that manufactured barbecue cookers. He was having some beef (no pun intended) with the government because he called his stuff “barbecue” and it didn’t fit the FDA’s bureaucratic definition of what constituted barbecue. The feds wanted him to cease and desist, but this guy knew barbecue; in fact, when he’d been in college, he’d written a scholarly paper on the subject.

So Randy and I fly up, rent a car and head out. To reporters, photographers had different reputations when it came to traveling, just as I’m sure the photographers rated the reporters. Most of the shooters were ok to travel with, and some were actually fun. On the other side of the spectrum, there was one photographer we derisively nicknamed “Mr. Personality” and we’d generally make some excuse about “logistics” and insist on taking separate flights and cars because the thought of being stuck in an enclosed space with him for hours on end was unbearable.

The word on traveling with Randy was that he always had to have his five squares a day. Crammed in his camera bag was a book or two listing cool out-of-the-way places to eat. So we’re heading down the road to the barbecue cooker factory and Randy pulls out the book and, sure enough, it lists some cafĂ© in a small town a few miles ahead that is known for its pies.

“Let's stop and eat," he said.

“Uh, Randy, I think the barbecue guy will probably have some food for us when we get there. He’s wanting to show us what his cooker can do. I’m thinkin’ we don't need to stop.”

“Nah, they're not gonna feed us,” he replied. “We need to get lunch.”

Randy could be persuasive and I was hungry anyway so we stopped and ate. I had chicken-fried steak -- one of two times in my 12 years at the DMN I had chicken-fried steak, and don’t ask me why I remember that -- and then since the place was known for its pies, we had some of that, too. I had banana cream.

We waddle out to the car, climb in and continue to our destination. We get to the town (it was some small town founded by freed slaves, oddly enough) and drive up to the business, walk inside and there, in a conference room, is the single largest spread of barbecue I have ever seen. The Titanic set sail with less food. The guy wants us to try a bit of everything, so Randy and I look at each other and, being the professionals that we were, we took one for the DMN team and ate the guy’s barbecue. And I don’t care what the Food and Drug Administration said. This stuff was barbecue.

It turned out to be a decent story, but when you were traveling with Randy, the quality of the story was kind of a secondary issue….